What I learned from travelling

Well I’ve been back from my travels for a few weeks now but it feels like much more.  Bear Cub started school last week so we’ve been focused on that and the sense of ‘all-change’ has helped in returning to routine and normality.  It’s a different routine so that helps a little.

I’ve lost count of people who have asked me whether I had a good time, what was my favourite place and whether I was glad to be back.  Only a few, my closest friends who knew my reasons for going, asked me if I got out of the trip what I wanted to – did I feel changed by the experience and what was I going to do with what I’ve gained?

Obviously, travelling gives you a lot of time to think.  Once you are free from the pressures of your every day life you somehow realize you are never as trapped as whatever situation you’ve come from has led you to believe.  By the very fact that you are away means you did it – you escaped.  I congratulate myself for having gone.  For having done it, whether I achieved my goals or not.

I’m pleased to report however, that I feel I did achieve most of my goals:  I wanted an adventure – check.  I wanted to challenge myself, scare myself even – check. I wanted to get away from my life – check.  I wanted to change within; my perspective on my past, my present and my future – check.  I wanted to feel alive – check.  I wanted to gain new enthusiasm, focus and energy for the future – check.  I wanted to fall out of love (well I did say most of my goals)!

The trip did not change my life or massively change me but it did change my perspective.  And after all, how we think is the first step to changing how we act, who we are and who we will be.  As I suspected, the key was to step out of my life and to have an adventure.  It didn’t really matter where I went or for how long, as long as it was away and although I could have travelled for longer and further away – it was enough!  If there is one thing I would want to say to encourage any one out there thinking ‘I’d love to do something like that’ is to just do it! It may sound overly simple but I mean it.  To whatever your means are – do it! Create that adventure and that space for yourself so you can be centered, and hear, and find out who you are again, and find out where you want to go next.  If that for you means getting a friend to have your child for a night so you can book a SuperSaver train fare to Brighton for 2 days and walk on the beach and listen to music and write and breathe in the sea air, stay in a cheap hotel and eat fish and chips with the wind in your hair – if that is all you can do then I really believe it will be enough.  If you go with an open heart, expectant and wanting of change I believe it will happen simply because you’ve created the space to realize things you already know.  To give airplay to dreams you’ve pushed down under the daily grind, buried beneath your disappointments, responsibilities and pressures.

A word on the cost of my trip. I had to completely re-plan my trip after money issues meant I could not do my original idea of a road trip across the West Coast of the U.S.  I’m a single-mum in a debt-scheme due to my divorce and working only part-time in a fairly poorly paid job.  Yet I managed to do an amazing trip on a mega budget.  Here’s how I funded it: My house is meant to be remortgaged so I ‘borrowed’ some money from my son’s savings account (money put in there from the divorce) I feel really bad about this but I intend to replace it before the end of the year and I also hope that my son gained an experience he’ll remember for his whole life.  The other half of my trip was entirely funded through gifts from my friends.  I have the most awesome, amazing friend in the world.  I did not ask anyone for any money yet I was overwhelmed by how much support I had for my trip and how much my friends were behind me and championing me and willing me to do this adventure.  One friend even thanked me for going on my trip and therefore challenging and inspiring her and gave me a monetary gift as a response!  I wanted to mention this to show how much people will be on your side when you speak out your dream. You may think people will want to put you in your place or pull you down or think you’re crazy but the truth is you’ll find people mainly want others to succeed.  Your own dreams will in turn inspire others in theirs and they will want to get on board and support you in any way they can.  I was truly humbled and amazed as I saw this truth unravel before me.  I absolutely could not have done my trip without the help and support – both practical, monetary and otherwise – of my friends.  I want to be totally transparent about that.

One of the things that was most interesting about being away was the fact that every single day I truly felt like I was living.  Actually living in the moment.  In my life here in London I often feel like I am always rushing or otherwise waiting.  Rushing the days by looking forward to something to look forward to or waiting for something exciting to happen or just busy on the treadmill of life.  This mindset can make you feel like you’ve ‘wasted’ a day when you don’t get what you had planned done or even if you’re just relaxing.  Alternatively you feel like your days are rushed and full but with nothing that really and truly matters to you.

When I was travelling I never felt like this.  Each day that stretched out before me was not even thought about in a way and I certainly didn’t think about the day after that.  I just lived each day and loved it.  I have never felt more ‘in the moment’ and present in my life before and it was a wonderful and freeing feeling.  I suspect it is a key to lasting and everyday happiness.  How we spend the majority of our time, who we are with, what we do and what we look at needs to be what we want our life to look like and be like.  It is hugely important and key to our happiness and fulfillment.

So in that sense, it was life changing.  I just need to work out how to keep that mindset and not lose it now that I’m back home.  Time for change I think.

France Part 1 – Planes, Manses & Lanuejols

photo (11)

Perpignon – Planes

After getting a little lost (again) we actually managed to return the hire car to Girona airport no problem.  We then had to get a bus back to Girona train station where we would be getting a high-speed train to Perpignon via Figueres to start the French leg of our travels.  My plan was to drop the backpack in Left Luggage and walk round Girona town again as we had a few hours before our train.  However, one thing I have learned about travelling with a 4-year-old is to ‘under plan’ everything and to allow double the time to do everything.  Bear Cub had woken that morning complaining of a ‘funny’ tummy.  I was worried at first that he had eaten something that disagreed with him but I soon realised he was literally exhausted and the many late nights and early mornings had finally caught up with him despite napping during car journey’s in the day.  He really did look ill, poor bear, and was very pale.  I put him to sleep in the car and he thankfully had almost an hour while I dismantled the tent which gave him enough energy to make it to the airport and the train station.  However, I could feel an imminent meltdown once we’d reached there so we decided to hang out in the cool air-conditioned train station.  Bear Cub actually constantly kept falling asleep and napping on every chair he sat on.  It at least kept him from being bored so that before we knew it, it was time to board the train.

The High-speed train was lots of fun and the changeover was smooth except the journey was so short, Bear Cub was a very grizzly bear indeed when I had to wake him at Perpignan.  We then had a very stressful 40 minutes of trying to locate the Hertz car hire place which was supposedly ‘at’ the train station – me sweating and straining with the huge backpack and Bear Cub in tears from tiredness.  It’s amazing the internal dialogue I have had in terms of my parenting along this journey.  It ranges from patting myself on the back and thinking I’m doing pretty good as a mum when Bear Cub is ecstatic at spotting a lizard or climbing a ‘real’ mountain, to wondering if I need to report myself to Childline when I’m forcing my son to trail round a railway station in 34 degree heat with a backpack on his back while I hiss and moan at him for being whiney!!!  Anyway, it turned out the Hertz place was actually not in the station but across the road and down the street.  By now it was 6.30pm and I was aware we still had a 2 hour journey ahead of us to our campsite. What made matters a little more daunting was that I soon discovered that the car we’d been given had the power of a moped and was no match for the winding roads and steep hills of the Pyrenees!! At some stretches we were crawling a long in 2nd gear and must have looked quite a comical sight – though at this stage I wasn’t really finding anything funny!! Bear Cub immediately fell asleep and I was left to take in the breath-taking scenery.  I really have never seen such amazing views and it helped to calm me and quiet the voice inside condemning me for my bad parenting!

The journey was long and was pretty scary on some of the steep bends around the beautiful Pyrenees but we eventually found our campsite and it was well worth the journey.

L’orri de Planes is an Ecological Country House with a Gite, rooms, Eco-tents and free camping sites too.  It was small but perfectly equipped, immaculately clean, with a pool and WiFi.  The ethos of the owners, Arif and Marta is to create a site that is as sustainable as possible.  The food was all locally sourced, everything was recycled, the whole place was solar-powered and everywhere you looked were signs advising you not waste water, lights or any energy.  The restaurant is apparently known to serve some of the best food in the region and we gratefully sampled a delicious Lasagne when we arrived exhausted from our journey.  By this time it was almost 9pm and Bear Cub was beside himself with tiredness.  I relented and asked Arif if they had any rooms free so we could get a good night’s sleep and he did but also offered us the cheaper option of the Gite. The Gite was actually like a Scandinavian style hut like hostel with 10 beds in the room.  There was only one other person staying in there so we opted to sleep on the mezzanine level which had 4 beds and a measure of added privacy due to being elevated.  This was the best decision Id made that day and we stayed 3 nights with Bear Cub sleeping until 10am one morning and much better for it!

photo (7)photo (8)photo (13)

L’Orri de Planes is a great place and I can’t recommend it enough.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay there and Bea Cub especially enjoyed a ride on Le Petit Train Jaune which is an open top train that takes you on a ride along the cliff top edges of the Pyrenees.  We also climbed a mountain (just a little one) and paddled in a natural waterfall/river.  With more children at the site Bear Cub even made some friends so it was smiles all round!

photo (10)photo (12)photo (9)

Manses near Mirepoix

After feeling much more rested we headed to our next stop – Belrapayre – Europe’s only Retro Trailer park in Manses near Mirepoix.  Coline, the owner along with her husband, Perry had warned me that it was their annual retro airstream meeting that weekend so if it was a quiet stay I was after it was not the place! I thought it sounded like fun but opted for just one night just in case.  I now wish I’d stayed longer!! We had a fantastic time!

Driving everywhere in France is beautiful.  Passing fields packed to the corners with Sunflowers, hills, mountains and trees you can’t help but drive along with a smile on your face.

We found Belrapayre fairly easily thanks to NavFree France and the place immediately has an impact on you. Belrepayre is not only full of amazing, immaculately restored retro Airstream trailers but the whole place is decorated to fit in with the retro feel.  The reception is a trailer adorned with classic, American car signs, 60’s decor and mannequins kitted out in the appropriate gear.  The trailer pitches are surrounded with pink flamingos and the walkways have half old cars and old-fashioned bath tubs filled with flowers.  The play area has a real old double-decker bus and London taxi parked up and a red phone box that made us feel at home 🙂

photo (14)photo (15)photo (16)

Perry and Coline are fantastic people and have a wonderful story to tell. Perry, originally from Surrey U.K, was actually one of the most famous clowns in Europe and his Father was a well-known British actor.  He persuaded Coline to run away to the circus with him and they eventually had their own circus that travelled round Europe along with their four sons.  After many years they sold the circus and set up the Airstream Retro park that is Belrepayre and what a wonderful place it is.  They are the perfect welcoming guests and everything is a bit tongue-in-cheek, kitsch and fun!

photo (18)photo (19)

The Airstream meeting in the evening consisted of everyone dressing as retro as possible and enjoying a special 3 course meal with a live French duo performing and the evening culminated in the annual slap-stick performance from Perry and one of his sons, Correo, who is also a professional performer.  Nothing is taken too seriously and a lot of fun was had by all.  Perry ended the evening with a DJ set as his alter-ego ‘Johnny Lotion’.  Somehow Bear Cub managed to stay up until midnight and we had a fabulous time.

photo (17)

This stop was the one where I first made some real friends who made a real impact on me and I intend to keep in touch with.  Dr Egbert Mulder is a Director of the biggest Yoga centre in Amsterdam and has attended the Airstream meeting 3 years in a row.  This year was the first on his own with his 3 children since he separated from his wife.  Egbert was a successful businessman and consultant and decided to radically change his life and do something of ‘meaning’ so sold his businesses and now focuses on developing the centre. He was amazingly wise and calming and hugely positive.  He kept reminding me that ‘Life is something that happens while we’re busy making plans!’ He also showed me some great techniques for dealing with stress.  It was interesting to me that he told me ‘stress’ is not about being busy, it s about any negative emotion.  And all negative emotion immobilises us.  We’re then unable to think straight, make decisions or plan ahead.  We are literally incapacitated by all negative emotion.  We therefore need to deal with ‘stress’ so that we can move forward in to the future.  This was spot on for me.

Another lovely person I met was Lenka, a Thai Massage Therapist from Czech republic.  She instantly befriended me and we talked for most of the evening.  I also attended one of her workshops the next morning and it was wonderful!

All in all Belrapayre was a great experience and I fully intend to go for the Airstream meeting next year!

photo (20)

On the way to our next destination we stopped at Carcasonne which has a beautiful and magical castle with lovely little shops, artists studios and cafes within its walls.  We didn’t have time to pay and go in the castle part itself but loved the bustling vibe and Bear Cub enjoyed playing Knights and hunting Dragons in the grounds.

Lanuejols

Our next stop took a lot longer to get to than I anticipated as we basically had to drive down to the coast before we could go up back into the Mid Pyrenees and our skateboard car did not like the windy roads at all! It took almost 4 hours and our petrol tank was low – really low! I can tell you now I was praying like mad! It was a Sunday and all the little petrol stations, few and far between were closed.  I was kicking myself for not filling up in Millau the nearest big town to our site which was actually 40 mins away! By the skin of our teeth we limped into Domaine des Pradines exhausted – more from the stress and worry than anything else.

I have to admit, Domaine des Pradines was my least favourite campsite so far.  It was rustic and wild which I’d come to prefer to the more commercial campsites but I found the toilets and showers dirty and the facilities a bit unkept.  However, Bear Cub had made friends before I’d even finished putting the tent up (which I now have down to a fine art by the way!) and with a small pool, two parks, a table tennis room and tennis courts, he was more than happy! For me it was a bit isolated.  There was nothing outside of the park except for the little village of Lanuejols which didn’t have much and was not exceptionally pretty like some of the places we’d seen.

photo (21)

I got to work booking our next stop.  We did have a campsite earmarked that was again in the Natural Parks and mountains but the owner had irritated me by refusing to communicate to me in anything but French even though she was actually English! After her first email I replied in my very basic French politely saying my French was poor.  She simply sent a much longer, more complicated reply in French! I had to use Google translate in the end! It took 3 emails back and forth just to find out how I could actually book.  Now I know us English are very lazy with languages and I admit I’ve been ashamed of my French while here when Ive come across Swiss, Dutch and Czech people all fluent in both French and English.  However, I felt she was taking her point too far – especially as she was English! So we sacked that one.  Besides, we felt we needed to get back to the coast and the beaches and away from the winding roads of the Pyrenees in our ‘skate-board’ car.  It was pretty taxing winding down a mountain for hours on end at 30 mph!!

We have been in France for just a week and it has been exhausting and exhilarating.  We’ve already experienced so many different sides of this beautiful country.  The French countryside  is both inviting and embracing, it massages your soul into peaceful reflection and the sights and smells literally lift your spirits as you take them all in.  I’d also personally finally begun to feel the changes within myself that I so desired on this trip: Clarity, vision for the future, peace and being okay with being on my own.

I already have a lot to thank France for and I think this is the start of a lifelong friendship.  I’ve always fallen in love easily but I’m falling fast even for me with France!Image

Travelling sideways

photo (6)

I see my reflection looking back at me in various windows.

Travelling my journey to new found places within me as well as without.

My expression is non-perplexed.  Serene even.

A curious, demure look privately exciting myself,

at the prospect of the next discovery that awaits at my next stop.

A revelation about myself revealed by a place.

Unwrapped before me in the form of challenges and fears faced and conquered.

Gradually I begin to embrace the fear.

I ride anxiety, using it to propel me onwards, upwards and beyond my own barriers I’d previously believed impenetrable.

This is what growing feels like.

This is how life sounds when it’s allowed to breathe: A glorious exhalation, letting out limitations.

I watch them float away from me and know they will never return.

My wings are stretched.

I am poised to fly.

An extra word about Girona…

Image

So Girona turned out to be my favourite stop in Spain.  It was a long journey to Girona from Castellon so we stopped for lunch in Tarragona.  Suddenly everyone seemed to speak English and I realised how isolated I’d been really only having had two adult conversations in a whole week!  It’s funny how many people can be around you yet somehow you’re trapped in a box with you somehow on the inside and everyone else on the outside.  However, it was short lived as in Girona I still struggled to be understood but there were notiably many more French speakers around us being so close to the border.  However I was amazed as I watched our host and owner of our campsite, Can Toni Manescal, Lorenc speak at least four different languages to guests!  The site was probably the most basic and oldest we’d been to but I loved it.  We were high up with amazing views of the Pyrenees in the distance and Ru loved the swimming pool.  It was great to see his confidence growing in the water.  He also finally found some friends which helped to alieviate my guilt at dragging him across a country with only me for company!

But perhaps the best thing about my stay in Girona was the food!  Lorenc put on a set menu each evening of delicious, home-cooked food.  Most impressive was the fresh coloured salad with flowers (yes real flowers) from their garden.  I have never tasted such a delicious salad!

After the first night we drove into Girona itself where a wonderful delight met us in the form of the most gorgeous little town I’ve ever seen.  We crossed the river over a cute little bridge into the old part of the town and visited the imposing Cathedral.  It had a real impact on me.  It actually felt like a real spiritual experience.  I’m not sure if it was to do with the building itself or the fact that many have sought God within its walls and the presence of many heartfelt prayers was almost tangible, hanging peacefully yet expectantly in the air.

We’re off to France tomorrow and I’m really looking forward to it.  My French is poor (in fact Bear Cub’s is probably better than mine!) but it somehow seems more accessible and I have always had a strange draw to France.  So well see what tomorrow’s adventure brings!

Image